London resident Jonny Payne gives you an insider’s tour around the city that never sleeps, sharing some secrets that only the locals know.
0700-0900. Awaken the senses with a trip to bustling Smithfield Market (225 Central Markets, 020 7248 3151). Trading starts at 3am, but arrive by 7am and the stalls will still be well stocked with meats while the haggling between buyers and sellers will be at its most enticing. By this time you’ll be feeling hungry; and what better way to start the day than with a ‘full English’. Hawksmoor Guildhall (10 Basinghall Street, 020 7397 8120) serves one of the best in the City, with the artery-bursting Hawksmoor Breakfast for two featuring bone marrow, short-rib bubble and squeak and HP gravy. Alternatively, try their Lobster Benedict or Manx Kippers. The Modern Pantry (47-48 St John’s Square, 020 7553 9210) provides a more health-conscious option with its selection of fruits, grains and seeds.
0900-1100. Work off breakfast with a stroll through the heart of the City to Bank and scale the 311 steps to the top of the Monument (Fish Street Hill, 020 7626 2717) for juxtaposing views of old and new London. Catch the westbound bus 15 to the Strand, where you’ll find Twinings (216 Strand, 020 7353 3511); the original 1706 shop of the quintessentially English tea brand is tiny but houses a fascinating museum and a loose leaf counter where tea drinkers can pick their favourite brew. Take to the top deck of bus 11 to Trafalgar and Parliament Squares – it’s a great chance to see the iconic sights of Nelson’s Column, the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey without the crowds. This route continues past Victoria and onto Pimlico’s Orange Square, where you can have a coffee in yummy mummies’ favourite Daylesford (44B Pimlico Road, 020 7881 8060).
1100-1300. Walk past the imposing Royal Hospital Chelsea to the Chelsea Physic Garden (66 Royal Hospital Road, 020 7352 5646) (open April to October), which hides unassumingly behind a wrought-iron gate. This tranquil haven is the perfect tonic to London’s hustle and bustle, and you can easily lose yourself for an hour amid the rambling plants with a good book. Wander around the corner to Carlyle’s House (24 Cheyne Row, 020 7352 7087), the perfectly restored home of Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle, and through Chelsea’s pretty back streets to fashionable King’s Road, with its glut of fashion boutiques and independent shops. Foodies shouldn’t miss Partridge’s (2-5 Duke of York Square, 020 7730 0651), while trendsetters can stop off at Bluebird (350 King’s Road, 020 7351 3873).
1300-1500. Take the tube to dynamic King’s Cross, where you can get your hands dirty at Kerb (King’s Boulevard) (from Tuesdays to Fridays), a street food collective featuring everything from mouth-wateringly tender ribs from The Rib Man to kimchi-topped hot dogs at Kimchi Cult. If the thought of eating on the hoof with juices dribbling down your sleeves is too much, sample vegetarian-focused fare at Grain Store (Goods Way, 020 8880 6111) on recently regenerated Granary Square, or order the likes of a soft shell crab burger at Shrimpy’s (Goods Way, 020 8880 6111). After lunch, you’ll have time to wander alongside Regent’s Canal – home to pretty narrowboats – and explore King’s Place’s contemporary art galleries (90 York Way, 020 7520 1440) before heading south to leafy Brunswick Square.
1500-1700. Nestled in the corner of this verdant part of Bloomsbury, the Foundling Museum (40 Brunswick Square, 020 7841 3600) tells the moving stories of Britain’s abandoned children who were often left just with a small tag as identification. Inside the beautiful brick building is a range of exhibits and art collections, while Tracey Emin’s mitten sculpture is a poignant reminder of the plight of the foundlings. A short walk to Euston will lead you to the Wellcome Collection (183 Euston Road, 020 7611 2222), which pushes the boundaries in exploring and promoting science through its interactive exhibitions and live events. If you have some spare time, take the Victoria Line from Euston to Oxford Circus and eschew the shops to marvel at the BBC’s gleaming new Broadcasting House (Portland Place, 0370 901 1227).
1700-1900. Fitzrovia is bustling at this time as media types gather in pubs and bars under the shadow of the iconic BT Tower. Grab a negroni at popular eatery The Riding House Café (43-51 Great Titchfield Street, 020 7927 0840) or mingle with the Newman Street Tavern (48 Newman Street, 020 3667 1445) regulars with an aptly named Spitzrovia cocktail. Among the quirkier bars in London is Bourne and Hollingsworth (28 Rathbone Place, 020 7636 8228), a retro hangout with funky music and homely ambience. Head south to Soho through pretty Soho Square in time to choose your favourites from the array of delectable chocolate truffles made on site at Paul A. Young (143 Wardour Street, 020 7437 0011) – the award-winning salted caramel chocolates are a must – before browsing the five floors of Foyle’s bookshop (113-119 Charing Cross Road, 020 7437 5660).
1900-2100. With restaurants everywhere you turn in Soho, it can be a little daunting. Frith Street is a good bet with a plethora of trendy eateries, including Ceviche (17 Frith Street, 020 7292 2040), which led the recent Peruvian food trend in London. It’s invariably heaving, so if you haven’t booked, spend some time at the animated bar and order one of their moreish pisco sours before tucking into zingy ceviche or meaty lomo saltado. Across the street, Koya (49 Frith Street, 020 7434 4463) serves up steaming bowls of udon noodles; while for cheap eats, try the delicious pork dumplings at Baozi Inn (26 Newport Court, 020 7287 6877), a more relaxed offshoot of Soho’s Sichuan favourite Bar Shu (28 Frith Street, 020 7287 8822).
After 2100. In the heart of Chinatown, go for a post-dinner aperitif at the scantily lit Experimental Cocktail Club (13A Gerrard Street, 020 7434 3559), a speakeasy-style townhouse bar innocuously secreted behind a small black door. Here the mixologists definitely know best. If you want a taste of Soho’s thriving gay scene, basement bar the Friendly Society (79 Wardour Street, 020 7434 3805) is a quirky spot with Barbie dolls on the ceiling and a welcoming clientele. End your night at legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott’s (47 Frith Street, 020 7439 0747). Sit on one of the warmly lit benches downstairs while the resident band exhales smooth notes with past and present greats – it’s best to book ahead to guarantee a seat. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up in the early hours, Bar Italia (22 Frith Street, 020 7437 4520) serves Italian-strength coffee until 5am.
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Written by World Travel Guide.